The Pill: A Brief History of Birth Control in the United States

Feminist Margaret Sanger was arraigned in the Federal Courthouse on January 18, 1916 for distributing her journal “The Woman Rebel” by mail in which she advocated for birth control use. Photos Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

Across many industries, colloquial terms for products and inventions have a real staying power. You've probably heard someone refer to a tissue by saying "Kleenex," for example. Similarly, folks use the brand name Band-Aid as a stand-in for referring to bandages. 

Another common colloquialism? Calling birth control pills simply "the pill." Taken orally, these hormonal contraceptives are synonymous with the term — even though many medications come in capsule (or pill) form. Still, if you say "the pill," people across generations will immediately know that you're referring to birth control. 

Today, a person's contraceptive choices extend beyond the pill. But the history of the ubiquitous phrase — and the medication itself — figure so prominently into the history of reproductive rights, health care, sexual health, and bodily autonomy. With this in mind, let's delve into the history of birth control in the United States, and how this history is still deeply tied into the fight for equal rights today.